While Fontella Bass will always be thought of as one of the preeminent
Chicago soul artists (thanks in part to her massive hit, the brilliant
'Rescue Me") her roots and earliest recordings were in St Louis, MO.
Fontella's third release (1963), finds her backed by Tina Turner &
The Ikettes, and in my opinion is one of her finest records; the
personification of sass and power! While in St Louis, Fontella also sang
in the Little Milton band, and began an association with Bobby McClure
that continued on after her move to Chicago.
Bass relocated to Chicago in late '64, and cut her first duet record
with Bobby McClure ('Don't Mess Up A Good Thing') which was released in
early '65 and became a minor hit. A second duet disc was released in the
summer of '65 which was only a minor r&b hit. However, late in the
same year 'Rescue Me" was released and became a massive hit; the song is
still heard everywhere (a staple of commercials as well) and for very
good reason- it's the type of song and performance that will live on
forever. Fontella's followup disc, "Recovery" (early '66) is a lovely
song and another mighty fine performance, but it failed to match the
massive success of the big hit. further bitterness ensued when Fontella
claims she was cheated out of her share of songwriting credits on
"Rescue Me" (she eventually won co-writer credit in the 1990's). While
Fontella continued on making a few more great records through the '60's,
she, along with her husband, avant-garde sax man Lester Bowie (Art
Ensemble Of Chicago) moved to Paris. Her vocals grace the incredible Art
Ensemble track "Theme De Yo-Yo". Fontella Bass, R,I.P (1940-2012).
Also from Missouri (Kansas City), Marva Whitney (born Marva Ann
Manning) had one of the brassiest, funkiest, most powerful voices in all
of soul music. Like so many soul singers, her singing career began in
the church, and she was a member of family band The Manning Gospel
Singers, and at age 16 joined the Alma Whitney Singers (where she met
future husband Harry Whitney). Her gospel career ended in 1967, when she
joined the James Brown Revue, although the testifying power of her
voice always remained fully in the church. James Brown began producing
her records in 1968 (beginning with the incredible 'Unwind Yourself")
and the godfather certainly helped in unleashing the funk power of
sister Marva's voice.
"It's My Thing" (You Can't Tell me Who To Sock It To)" (1969), an
absurdly funky answer to the Isley Brothers "It's Your Thing" is not
only something of Marva's signature track, but is also a feminist call
to arms. James Brown's band vamps furiously behind her, while Marva
asserts her place in the world and tells the man that she doesn't NEED
him, taking the freedom aspect of The Isleys' jam to a whole other
Marva's debut solo single (1967) was 'Your Love Was Good For Me";
however, I prefer the flip side- "Saving My Love For My Baby". This
track bridges the gap beautifully between her gospel past (check out the
intro) and her funk future. When I listen to this track, I feel as
though I'm listening to the type of voice that is such a force of
nature, so raw, so powerful, that it's almost akin to looking too deeply
into a very personal side of an individual's life. I am thankful every
day that these performers gave so much of themselves in their music, and
while their passing is an indication of how fleeting life is, the music
will always resonate.
Marva Whitney, R.I.P: 1944-2012
Call me a softy if you wish, but I have a special fondness for Christmas music; I always look forward to spinning seasonal LP's by The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, The Supremes, Temptations, Vince Guaraldi, and of course the Phil Spector collection while trimming the tree, cooking meals and opening prezzies with the wife. There's a handful of Xmas 45's that get yearly spins as well; here's a few favorites- some well known, most too obscure than they deserve to be.
One area that wasn't explored very deeply by US garage bands was the
Christmas record; however, Chicago's Saturday's Children were way too
sophisticated to be called a garage band.
Here, the band (deeply
influenced by the Beatles) melds "Deck The Halls" with Dave Brubeck's
jazz standard "Take Five' and turns it into a jazzy, quasi-psychedelic
number that I almost guarantee will bring on some holiday cheer. This
group had an incredible knack for harmonies, and tackle the tricky 5/4
time signature with ease making for the most hypnotic Christmas record
I've ever heard. The other side ("Christmas Sounds") is an exceptional holiday original
showcasing their excellent group harmonies and songwriting skill. This song gets closer to my heart with each passing year, and sadly, Saturday's Children main man Ron Holder passed away about a month ago (not to mention Mr Take Five himself, Dave Brubeck) making this record extra powerful this season.From 1966.
One of the prettiest, yet little known soul Christmas singles.
not sure if this Betty Lloyd is the same singer who was a member of the
east coast girl group The Percells; Thomas Records (named after Jamo
Thomas) was a Chicago label, and this track certainly has an indelible
Chicago stamp on it.
The lyrics brilliantly capture the feeling
of being alone at Christmas, but without self pity. Oozing with quality,
this song should truly be a holiday standard.
Here's an incredible double-sided bit of holiday wonderment from the
master. Released in 1968 (exactly one year after Otis' tragic death),
this superb record showcases the two sides of Otis; his reading of the
perennial "Merry Christmas Baby" shows his uptempo driving vocals, while
his take on "White Christmas" shows that this man could pull so much
emotion out of a ballad and turn a song completely into his own.
Among his brilliant skills arranging, producing and performing, Donny
Hathaway also co-wrote and put to wax the first version of this song
that has since become a Christmas standard. Tragically, Donny only lived
34 years; however, the gifts of music that he left behind are immortal.
Cut by William Bell for the Stax/ Atlantic Soul Christmas
LP release, "Every Day Is Like A Holiday" is a favorite Christmas style
song that doesn't go over the top oozing with Christmas sentiment
(although I admit I'm a sucker for lots of Xmas music). I wanted to
feature the William Bell version, but I don't have it on 45. Then I
remembered this gem that I picked up at Domino Sound Records in New
Orleans (one of the best little record stores on the planet, as a matter
Turns out "Van" is Van Broussard, one of the
progenitors of the Louisiana "swamp pop" sound; this 45 finds him in
deep southern soul mode.
Following the recent passing away of Mickey Baker, R&B and Rock'n'roll pioneer, author of the first Method book on the electric guitar (: "Mickey Baker's Complete Course in Jazz Guitar"), there is still some debate to be found over who actually wrote his biggest and most perenial hit : "Love is Strange" he had in 1956 performing as an R&B duo, Mickey & Sylvia, with Sylvia Vanderpool (who later became Sylvia Robinson, future record label executive founder/CEO of Hip Hop label Sugar Hill Records, instigator behind two landmark singles in the genre : "Rapper's Delight" by Sugarhill Gang, the first rap song by a hip hop act, and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five's "The Message"!).
At a concert at Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. Mickey & Sylvia heard Jody Williams play a guitar riff that Williams had played on Billy Stewart's debut single "Billy's Blues". The instrumentation combined Blues with Afro-Cuban stylings. Sylvia Robinson claims that she and Mickey Baker then wrote the lyrics to that guitar riff, while Bo Diddley claims that he wrote them. The first recorded version of "Love is Strange" was performed by Bo
Diddley, who recorded his version on May 24, 1956 with Jody Williams on
lead guitar. This version was not released until its appearance on I'm a Man: The Chess Masters, 1955-1958 in 2007. Mickey & Sylvia's version was recorded several months later on October 17, 1956... while "Billy's Blues" was released as a single June 1956!
... Now, Who do you think actually wrote the song?!
I have a strong feeling myself it was Mickey Baker since he later took credit for one of the French adaptations he co-produced 12 years later with French Swingin' Mademoiselle Actress and singer Françoise Deldick : "Hum! Hum!" (which version one "A. Béréssi" took co-credit... probably the French lyricist!). Had Bo really writen it, under the pseudonym of his wife Ethel Smith, Bo Diddley being also that popular a R'n'R star in France, he would have gone to court to reclaim his rights, don't you think?
Besides, the song is noted for its spoken dialogue section which goes as follows:
"How do you call your Lover Boy?"
"Come here, Lover Boy!"
"And if he doesn't answer?"
"Oh, Lover Boy!"
"And if he still doesn't answer?"
"I simply say..."
... Now would Elias McDaniels have written those lines? I ask you.